Types of Diurnal Owls

As you might know, most types of owls are nocturnal. There are also many crepuscular owls, meaning they are active during twilight. Diurnal owls are a pretty exclusive category though, as there are only three truly diurnal owls, the Northern Pygmy Owl, the Northern Hawk Owl, and the Snowy Owl.

The Northern Pygmy Owl

The Northern Pygmy Owl doesn’t really live up to its “Northern” designation as its range reaches from Canada all the way down in to Central American including Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

They definitely live up to the “Pygmy” designation though, as they only grow to be just under 6 inches long.

Unlike their nocturnal brethren who silently take flight to prowl for food in the night, the Northern Pygmy Owl prefers to sit and wait during the day for an opportunity to present itself. They wait in branches, watching for prey, and are known to snatch insects and small birds mid-air.

The Northern Hawk Owl

Unlike the Northern Pygmy Owl, the Northern Hawk Owl does indeed live up to its “Northern” designation. It is found around the world in the Taiga, or boreal forest. This owl can be found in the Northern parts of North American (mostly in Canada), Europe (mostly in Scandanavia), Eurasia (in Russia) and Asia (mostly in China). This owl has also been known to creep southward into the northern parts of the United States and into Great Britain in times when prey is plentiful.

Size-wise, this owl can reach sizes ranging from 14 to 16 inches with the females being slightly larger than the males.

This diurnal owl hunts much the same way as its little Pygmy cousin in that it waits and observes the area for prey. It mostly feeds on small to medium sized mammals but is also known to feed on birds which it can catch mid-flight. Due to its superb hearing, this owl can also locate animals under the snow, and can dive straight into the snow to snatch prey that is lying beneath.

Snowy Owl

This owl is white. Mostly. Sometimes.

There you have it, a nice overview of the only three known diurnal species of owls. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.


  1. Roshan Kadaramandalagi K July 16, 2013 at 6:16 am


    Thanks for the interesting article. I was specifically looking for diurnal owls and i got the information here.
    By the way I read in a book that some fishing owls are daytime owls without feathered feet (read relatively noisy).
    If the above 2 are the only daytime owls, then are these fishing owls?

    warm regards,

    • The owls here are not fishing owls. As far as I know, no fishing owl is diurnal, but the Blakiston’s Fishing Owl is crepuscular meaning it is active at dusk and dawn, but not usually during the day.

  2. Is this limited to a particular region? Otherwise there’s a pretty glaring omission with the Snowy Owl

    • Good point.

      Snowy owls are active during both day and night. I’m not sure, but I suspect this has something to do with the fact that days can be extremely long during certain times of the year – they can’t just hunt during the brief night during these times, so they’ve adapted to just hunt when they can whether or not the sun is out. I kind of wonder if the times they hunt are in any way associated with what the rest of the world would consider “night,” but I can’t find any research on that.

      Either way, some scientists consider the snowy owl diurnal, and some don’t because they aren’t strictly diurnal.

    • Way to go JohnQ!!!! I could not agree more!!! I work with birds of prey, and I have for decades. I have read, researched, blogged, talked and am 100% behind your comment. Ii have a Snowy. read the book by Anna Sanchez! Diurnal for sure!

  3. I recently kayaked the big Darby river in Ohio, We had a larger owl fly down in front of us and catch a fish and land on a branch on the side of the river. It was daytime about 11:15 am april 2015 just a few hundred yards south of where the little darby river runs into the big Darby. I was wondering what type of owl fishes during the day. It was large and brown with a wide body, no notible ears that I saw in the moment, large head and large eyes. Beautiful creature. After looking at many photos, it resembled the a short eared owl or a great horned owl maybe with his ears back. I may be wrong, but is the short eared owl or great horned owl diurnal? Is there a similar looking diurnal owl hoo is know to fish and is found in Ohio? It made our whole trip seeing him. Steve Smith

  4. I think it may have been a Pels Fishing Owl. Wiki say they are know to hunt durning the day when prey is scarce.

  5. Another diurnal owl is the Snowy Owl

  6. Hi
    I own owls, and take them to schools, residential homes etc. I’ll happily admit that I’m constantly learning new things.

    I was brushing up on the facts around owls eyes and their sight, when I found this .

    Great information. Thank you for taking the time to enlighten others. 🙂

  7. Lianne, just a thought, we don’t own creatures we may house them but they are free spirits

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